ASU football coach Todd Graham talks about the challenge of hiring “good people” and losing them to other schools entering ASU’s 2017 season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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Transfer quarterback Blake Barnett talks about coming to ASU to compete for the starting job on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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New ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks about the culture at ASU and working for Todd Graham on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins talks about how his injuries frustrated him last season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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New ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett talks about his friendship with head coach Todd Graham and his thoughts going into the 2017 season. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about the two quarterback recruits, Blake Barnett and Ryan Kelley, on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about top running back recruit Eno Benjamin on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about ASU’s signees on National Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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Here’s a look at some of the top underclassmen planning on entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
USA TODAY Sports
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Head coaches in the college football playoff won’t be the only coaches reaping the benefits.
USA TODAY Sports
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The early front-runner became the first Louisville Cardinal to hoist the prestigious award.
USA TODAY Sports
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Dan Bickley: Let’s not forget, this was never a season of high expectations. But clearly, Todd Graham needs to change some things. Video: azcentral sports
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Todd Graham talks about ASU’s 56-35 loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
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azcentral sports’ Doug Haller and Paola Boivin discuss Arizona’s 56-35 beatdown on ASU in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
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At its annual Legends Luncheon during Homecoming week Friday, ASU honored its 1986 football team, which won the school’s first Pac-10 title and beat Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl. John Cooper, ASU coach from 1985-87, is being inducted into the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Video: Jeff Metcalfe/Arizona Republic
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Todd Graham talks staffing challenges, 2017 season
Transfer QB Blake Barnett on coming to ASU to compete
ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks working for Graham
ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins on last season’s injuries
ASU DC Phil Bennett on friendship with Graham, 2017 season
ASU coach Todd Graham on QBs Barnett, Kelley
ASU coach Todd Graham on top RB recruit Eno Benjamin
ASU coach Todd Graham on National Signing Day
Top underclassmen entering the NFL draft early
College Football Playoff is lucrative for assistant coaches
Lamar Jackson wins 2016 Heisman Trophy
Strictly Bickley: It’s the right call for ASU to stick with Todd Graham
Todd Graham talks about ASU’s loss to Arizona
Doug Haller, Paola Boivin discuss the Territorial Cup aftermath
ASU honors 1987 Rose Bowl football team
The Arizona State football program sought another quarterback after a second straight losing season, but not simply because of the cumulative 11-14 record.
Because of injuries, ASU started three quarterbacks in 2016 – one a true freshman expected to redshirt – with another not getting out of preseason camp healthy. Brady White (foot) remains out for spring practice, which begins Tuesday, and Bryce Perkins with be limited in contact returning from a neck fracture. Manny Wilkins started 10 games but was not fully healthy over the final two-thirds of his sophomore season due to ankle and arm injuries.
“That’s a big reason Blake was recruited,” said White, who expects to be cleared for summer workouts. “It’s kind of questionable from the outside looking in.”
Blake Barnett, a 6-foot-5 quarterback transfer from Alabama, will by nature of the position be the most watched player during the 15 spring workouts. He and Wilkins are the leading contenders to start on paper with depth provided by White and Perkins perhaps freeing Dillon Sterling-Cole to take the redshirt season he was forced out of last season by need.
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Even though Barnett was cleared by the NCAA to play from the first game rather than sit out the first month of the season because of leaving Alabama after four games in 2016, he has been promised nothing more than a chance to compete for the starting job.
“Every single one of our quarterbacks are tremendous young men with great character and great work ethic,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “They are very disciplined players. It’s going to be highly competitive, and that’s exciting.”
Barnett, 21, won the starting job for defending national champion Alabama going into last season only to lose it to true freshman Jalen Hurts in the first game, a 52-6 rout of USC. Hurts, who came in on the Tide’s third offensive possession, produced four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) to change his course and Barnett’s.
Barnett has been mostly cautious in his comments about Alabama since signing with ASU in December, although he told ESPN’s Ted Miller during a spring media day last month that he picked up a “negative reputation” after Alabama coach Nick Saban said he was nervous early against USC.
“It’s a little business-oriented there,” Barnett said. “It’s hard not to be. You’re contending for a national championship every single year, you’re getting some of the best talent in the country and you’re with some of the top coaches. Their job is to win national championships and anything other than that is unsatisfactory. When they have that approach, it’s similar to a business. I believe you can have that same mentality and still build relationships with the coaches and be almost like a family and still be successful.”
There are twists in Barnett’s choice of ASU for his college restart.
Barnett and White are from Southern California, and they dueled in two memorable pass-happy high school games both won by White and Newhall Hart, 56-49 in 2013 and 57-35 in 2014 over Barnett and Corona Santiago.
“Brady and I laugh because when we’d go to regional camps, we would always be buddies and be together,” Barnett said. “It’s not awkward between us by any means. It’s nice actually because it’s someone I’ve been friends with along the way and someone I’m going to be a teammate with now.”
White said, “We’re going to continue to be friends off the field, and on the field, we’re going to be good teammates. We’re going to push each other obviously, and it’s a competition so one guy is going to be named (starter). The level of play is going to rise up.”
An even bigger wrinkle for Barnett came in January when offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, instrumental in recruiting Barnett, left ASU for a three-year deal as Auburn’s OC. Graham found a replacement for Lindsey at Alabama, hiring Tide wide receivers coach Billy Napier, who was Clemson’s OC in 2009-10.
“I’ve been with him for two years, almost like a co-worker or partial boss,” said Barnett, who more directly worked with then-Alabama-OC Lane Kiffin. “I have a pretty good relationship with him. Some of the (ASU) players are already realizing that he’s very passionate about what he does. That goes a long way with players when you see the drive these coaches have. He’s determined to be successful. Just like myself, he came from a winning university that’s had tremendous success, and he knows how to be successful.”
Napier obviously can’t play favorites in his new role but said Barnett is “certainly a guy that adds to the competition at the quarterback position.” His message across the board is, “I’m evaluating your actions. It’s a clean slate. Show me what you’re about. Don’t come in my office and tell me, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that. Show me.’ “
Barnett seems prepared for a position battle that can’t be any more high profile or stressful than what he’s already experienced. He has three years of eligibility remaining, plenty of time to create a legacy if he’s as good as billed coming out of high school, rated as high as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback.
Already with a bit of history in Arizona from training with Dennis Gile in Scottsdale, Barnett now works with George Whitfield, who has coached Jameis Winston, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and others now in the NFL.
“I really appreciate both of them and what George is doing for me now,” Barnett said. “You always have to keep your footwork on par. The biggest thing where I see flaws in my mechanics is I kind of have a strange delivery. I took pitching lessons when I was younger and it has an effect on how quick I deliver the ball. One of the biggest things I work on is shortening my motion.”
Barnett doesn’t consider himself to be a dual-threat quarterback but is mobile enough to extend a play if required.
“I have no problem throwing the ball away,” he said. “I’d like to say my game is sitting in the pocket and being able to deliver the ball downfield.”
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ASU spring football
Week 1: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.
Week 2: March 20, March 22, March 24.
Week 3: March 27, March 29, March 31.
Week 4: April 3, April 5, April 7.
Week 5: April 11, April 13, April 15 (spring game, 2 p.m., Sun Devil Stadium).
Note: Other than spring game, practices at Kajikawa fields are closed to the public.